April 3, 2012 | Back to: Opinion

Wet March comes close, but doesn't make up for dry winter

All those wet days in March brought the annual precipitation up to 76 percent of the yearly average in the Grass Valley area - something that sounded far-fetched heading into the month after a dry winter, particularly in December.

Measurements at the Grass Valley Water Treatment Plant registered more than 17 inches of precipitation in March - mostly rain - which is more than double the average amount for that month, said National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration Rorecaster George Cline.

"You guys are better than most," Cline said. "You had a terrible December, but March was great."

Year to date precipitation averages close to 47 inches. March's rain brought this year's total close to 36 inches of precipitation in Grass Valley.

March's snowfall was also better than expected after a drier-than-average winter for the higher Sierra Nevada. The snowpack is still about 50-55 percent the annual average, Cline estimated.

"The water content we just measured is down in the lower 10 percent of years," said Frank Gehrke, chief of California Cooperative Snow Surveys, at Monday's monthly snow measurement in Meyers. "But clearly we're making an improvement over March's measurements"

Monday's snow survey measured in Phillips showed a snowpack of 31 inches of depth and 11 inches of water content, just 39 percent of the long-term average for the station. Across California, the snowpack is 55 percent of the April 1 average, according to a statement released by the Department of Water Resources.

Nevada Irrigation District is among many in the Sierra Nevada that contribute to the state report, with measurements from five water courses feeding the Yuba and Bear river watersheds. NID staff was still analyzing the measurements late Tuesday and would have a report ready today, NID Operations Manager Sue Sindt said.

District directors planned to discuss the survey results during their meeting Tuesday and may scale back their declaration of a Stage 2 water shortage, they said during their board meeting last week.

Precipitation patterns this season have mirrored those seen in 1977, California's worst drought year on record. Because dry years often come in pairs, NID directors are concerned about conserving this year in case 2013 rainfall proves slim.

"The take-home message is that we've had a dry winter and, although good reservoir storage will lessen impacts this summer, we need to be prepared for a potentially dry 2013," DWR Director Mark Cowin said in a statement.

The recent snowfall will slow down the spring runoff, making it easier for water managers to plan for the year ahead, Gehrke said

"It really knocks the edge off the melt," he said. "If it comes off slowly and gradually, it's a better circumstance."

April is typically a low snowfall month, he added.

The mountain snowpack normally provides about one third of the water for California's households, industries and farms.

Due to runoff from last winter, California reservoir storage is more than 100 percent of average for the date.

DWR estimates that it will be able to deliver 50 percent of the more than 4 million acre-feet requested this year. Last year, the agency was able to deliver 80 percent of the water requested.

The final survey of the season will take place on May 1.

The Union's Trina Kleist, along with the Tahoe Daily Tribune's Dylan Silver, contributed to this report.

To contact Staff Writer Christopher Rosacker, email crosacker@theunion.com or call (530) 477-4236.

Christopher Rosacker
crosacker@theunion.com

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The Union Updated Apr 3, 2012 08:31PM Published Apr 3, 2012 08:25PM Copyright 2012 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.